ZERMATT, Switzerland (AFP) – Trains began running again in the Zermatt ski station on Wednesday (Jan 10) after crews dug through mounds of snow blocking the tracks, offering relief to thousands of tourists stranded at the popular Swiss resort.
Over the past two days, more than a thousand people have been airlifted out of the resort which lies at the foot of the Matterhorn after heavy snowfall cut off road and rail links.
Zermatt’s tourism office said trains to the nearby village of Taesch resumed at 5.15pm despite efforts to get the service up and running in the morning.
“After almost two days that Zermatt was cut off from the rest of the world, the destination is now reachable by train,” it said in a statement.
Excavators had been hard at work around a tunnel between Zermatt and Taesch, which lies about 6km away and serves as a gateway to the Matterhorn region.
Onward rail connections out of Taesch remain blocked, but replacement buses are running.
An official with Air Zermatt told AFP that more than 600 people had been airlifted out by helicopter on Tuesday – at a cost of 200 Swiss francs (S$270) per passenger – with several hundred more flown out on Wednesday.
With the trains still blocked, large queues had built up at the resort’s helipad, officials said.
Zermatt, where cars are not allowed to circulate, can accommodate about 13,000 visitors at a time. The resort had been at near capacity during the travel disruptions, although not everyone was trying to leave.
Those stranded there were unable to ski due to avalanche warnings.
Extreme weather has caused havoc in several Swiss areas, including in the canton of Bern where a World Cup downhill training run had to be cancelled due to snow and high winds.
Other areas in the southern canton of Valais have suffered power outages as well as mud and rockslides and flooding, forcing a number of road closures.
The heavy snowfall has caused casualties across the region.
In the French Pyrenees, one skier was killed and another injured during avalanches in Aragnouet on the slopes of Pique Poque mountain.
And in the French Alps, rescuers were looking for a British skier who went missing on Sunday in the resort of Tignes.
In the Italian Alpine resort of Sestriere, where more than two metres of snow fell in 48 hours, an avalanche struck a five-storey building late on Monday, sending a mass of snow and broken branches into its corridors and even into several apartments.
But the 29 people staying there managed to escape unharmed through the garage.
Around 100 people at the resort’s converted Olympic village complex, which housed athletes during the 2006 Turin Games, were also evacuated over fears the weight of snow could cause the roof to collapse.
Emergency services struggled to reach people in need of help and a 70-year-old woman was pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital after the ambulance sent to pick her up was delayed by a fallen tree.